Give 2022 some credit—any year with Kate Bush crashing Top 40 radio can’t be all bad. So let’s celebrate a superbly crazy year for music, when brilliant tunes kept exploding all over the stylistic map. These are my 25 favorite songs of 2022. (Although many other gems are over on my albums list, to avoid duplicating all the same artists. Including, but not limited to: hits, flops, obscurities, pop kicks, rap hustlers, soul divas, guitar monsters, disco jams, reggaeton hipsters, punk rockers, alien superstars, and karaoke room-clearers. And Carly Rae Jepsen, obviously.
25. Carly Rae Jepsen & Rufus Wainweight, “The Loneliest Time”
Who doesn’t love a happy ending? Count on Carly Rae and Rufus to give the world the Hallmark rom-com duet that brought a little light into 2022, ten years after we all fell in love with “Call Me Maybe.” The Dolly and Kenny of our time split up, but then fall back together and get the romantic morning-after scene they always deserved. Also a happy ending for her excellent album The Loneliest Time, which seemed doomed when it dropped the same night as Midnights. But TikTok refused to let this song perish, and “The Loneliest Time” became an anthem for everyone who craves a shot at starting over. She earned this. We earned this. And if you’re not a mess when Carly Rae vows, “I’m coming back for you, baby!”—what are you even doing with your life?
The rising Missouri songwriter Chappell Roan gets blunt in “Casual,” her power ballad about a nowhere non-relationship. She poses some questions, like “Knee deep in the passenger seat and you’re eating me out / Is it casual now?” (That might be a…no?) It’s produced by Dan Isgro, who made his pop bones with her tourmate Olivia Rodrigo. There’s hurt in her voice when Roan sings, “I’ve heard so many rumors that I’m just a girl you bang on your couch.” But “Casual” is about commitment fakery with someone who can’t accept you as part of their real life, even when you’re boning in the bathroom during dinner with their parents.
23. Cola, “Landers”
Cola rise from the ashes of the much-beloved Montreal postpunk band Ought. specializing in guitar tunes about political dystopia, in the era of “bespoke sneakers.” Fitting the concept, their name stands for Cost of Living Adjustment. “Landers” is the fantastic finale of their debut Deep In View. Tim Darcy narrates a day in the life over piano and distorted percussion, in a wry David Byrne/Laurie Anderson-style quaver of a voice, with a shout-out to “soda, a beverage bound by laws older than man to poison most ordinary life on earth.”
22. Saba featuring Day Wave, “2012”
The Chicago rapper Saba recalls a lost teenage friendship, over a dreamy mix of chirping birds and stuttering beats. Two lonely kids bond over hip-hop: “Music’s our common interest, we rambling about Kendrick and Kid Cudi / I’m tryna put her on to shit she missed / But she had everything.” They trade tapes in his granny’s basement, because it’s the only place they feel safe, escaping the gunfire outside. Best line: “We dreamt so loudly, we would wear it / When the sun would slow up on the greyest day / We on the train in our colorful clothing.” Damn.
21. The Paranoid Style, “Steve Cropper Plays ‘Femme Fatale’”
Elizabeth Nelson writes a pop-punk alternate history where Memphis guitar legend Steve Cropper jams with New York guitar legend Lou Reed, as Booker T and the MGs cruise the same mean streets as the Velvet Underground. It’s full of clever fan details, like, “Lou on 10th Avenue just finished Berlin / Bob Ezrin said ‘Put it in the bin.” But every time Nelson sings the “Femme Fatale” hook, she brings new meaning to the line, “Everybody knows the things she does to please.”
20. Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Poster Child”
I hear what you’re saying: Why so much quality on this list? Why so much intelligence and sophistication? Where are the shirtless men trying to rhyme “Robert Plant,” “Adam Ant,” and “Ulysses S. Grant”? No deep cuts from L..A. rock stars who clearly have no reject pile, except you secretly think this is the funniest, ergo best thing the Chili Peppers (for it is they) have done in years? I feel your disappointment, so let me make amends. Take it away, Anthony: “Steve Miller and Duran Duran! A Joker dancing on the sand! Van Morrison the Astral Man, the festival they have in Cannes, speak of Chico and the Man, the Silence of a certain Lamb!” My heart went from “they actually released this?” to “wow I love it” and back in record time. Tragically, I failed to convince my RS colleagues to include “Poster Child” on our list of the 50 best Chili Peppers songs. Maybe next year?
19. Kendrick Lamar, “N95”
“Can I vent all my truth?” Try and stop him. Kendrick worked hard to make sure nobody could confuse Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers with the comeback triumph the audience wanted (and honestly, expected). It’s his Side Two of My War. But “N95” is his undeniably intense refusal to be anybody else’s Kendrick, as he rages, “Take off them fabricated streams and them microwave memes.”
18. Rauw Alejandro, “Dime Quien???”
The Puerto Rican reggaeton superstar gives Eighties synth-pop sparkles in “Dime Quien???” It’s just crazy how everyone wanted to go full A-Ha this year. But Alejandro knows how to do it right, zooming from freestyle to house to Saturn, the beat gleaming with confidence, while his voice drips heartbreak.
17. Jin, “The Astronaut”
One thing about Jin is this guy will give you some romantic space travel, if you’re in the mood for romantic space travel. BTS have always had a fascination with outer space, maybe because they’re too huge for just one planet—it’s the only place vast enough for their imaginations. But Jin says farewell in “The Astronaut,” hitting high notes so poignant, his pain seems to float through the galaxy. He makes it seem like part of a trilogy with the classics “Moon” and “Epiphany.” Give Coldplay their due, but it wouldn’t mean a thing without the tremble in Jin’s voice. Safe travels and happy landings, astronaut.
16. Blood Orange, “Jesus Freak Lighter”
Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes brings the pain all over his brilliant Four Songs EP, coming back strong three years after Angel’s Pulse. In “Jesus Freak Lighter,” he mixes shoegaze with Sade, a melancholy soul trip with warped guitar echoing the hurt in his bloody valentine of a heart.
15. Maggie Rogers, “Symphony”
The prodigy who blew Pharrell’s mind with “Alaska” keeps pushing with “Symphony.” Maggie Rogers named her album Surrender after her Harvard Divinity School thesis, hiding out in Maine but dreaming of NYC dance floors, with the simpatico collaborator Kid Harpoon. “Symphony” is about staying up all night to talk out your issues, discussing your therapy, getting no rest. (“I know we’re both underslept,” she admits at the end, maybe a bit late.) But it’s got a giant rock surge, in that “soul-having but not soldier-being” kind of way, plus an LCD Soundsystem sense of grandeur. And the Fleetwood Mac percussion drove me crazy trying to figure out which song she’s tweaking. (“Sara,” BTW.) But it sounds exactly like Maggie Rogers, fearlessly figuring out who she is.
14. Quavo & Takeoff, “Hotel Lobby (Unc and Phew)”
A summer ride with the Migos men Quavo and Takeoff, their debut single as Unc and Phew. It sounded like a new beginning–until November, when Takeoff’s horrifying murder gave it a tragic tone. Without Offset, “Hotel Lobby” was a family affair, with trippy guitars and one of the year’s funniest videos, inspired by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. These two were going for it, on every level. “Hotel Lobby” should have been the start of a new story—an uncle and nephew, raised as brothers, two ATL infinity links bonded by blood, but then separated by death. R.I.P. Takeoff.
13. Soccer Mommy, “Shotgun”
Young love. So pure…so delusional. Sophie Allison makes “Shotgun” one of the most searing moments in her great Soccer Mommy songbook, with her twisted guitar and production from Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin. It’s a romance of bad dreams and bad drugs, where “uppers and my heart never meshed.”
12. Doechii ft. SZA, “Persuasive”
Doechii scores her most undeniable moment yet with “Persuasive,” teaming up with SZA for the killer remix duet. The song evokes a druggy up-all-night vibe where falling head over heels in love can feel like being blunted out of your mind. She keeps singing the sleepy hook, “She’s so persuasive / That marijuana / She’s so flirtatious,” over a moody Seventies R&B groove. SZA demands, “Get off my balls, I said it nice.” They keep coming back to the key question, “How does it feel to be you?” The answer: damn good when “Persuasive” is playing.
11. Pharrell ft. 21 Savage & Tyler, The Creator, “Cash In Cash Out”
Pharrell slides on back with “Cash In Cash Out,” with help from the tag team of 21 Savage and Tyler. Pharrell neither sings nor raps—he just keeps that hypnotic minimalist 808 loop pumping, and with a beat this cold, that’s all he needs. 21 Savage flexes his rudest humor, boasting, “She swallow all my kids, she a bad babysitter.” Tyler reports that he refused a multimillion-dollar show—“I declined because the stage didn’t match my ethos”—and adds, “Going both sides, you could say I’m B-I.”
10. Guitarricadelafuente, “Mil Y Una Noches”
The Spanish guitar dude is just starting to build his legend, but this fantastic ballad proves that Guitarricadelafuente is on his way. He pours his heart into hyper-romantic angst in his tender-lover voice, spilling over into mega-drums and guitar fuzz. I first heard “Mil Y Una Noches” when a friend texted it on my way home from a Harry Styles show, the same day I saw the David Bowie documentary Moonage Daydream, so I couldn’t have been more primed for this kind of hola-spaceboy tragic excess. Eactly the kind of powerhouse you want to hear on a NYC street corner at midnight. What a song.
9. Craig Finn, “Messing with the Settings”
The Hold Steady’s barstool poet spins the painfully gorgeous ballad of two doomed drug buddies, lost in America. He talks most of the story, as he did in his most famous tune, “God in Chicago,” but with the surprisingly moving refrain, “Sundown, it feels like I’m riding a train I’m not on.” His last farewell at the funeral: “Rachel did her best with the deal she’d been dealt / And that’s what I’ve got for a eulogy.”
8. Rosalía, “Despecha”
After the triumph of Motomami, she felt like showing off. So here’s a mambo piano, here’s a Dominican electro-merengue, here’s a piña colada raised to merengue queen Fefita la Grande. Here’s Rosalía on a break-up bender, having more fun than you and making it all look easy.
7. Steve Lacy, “Bad Habit”
Seriously, though: “Can I bite your tongue like my bad habit?” Psychedelic R&B guitar hero Steve Lacy knows romantic self-sabotage even better than he knows his Prince records, in the darkened underpass of his soul, a Number One smash that still sounds unpredictable after triple-digit listens. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” of biscuits and gravy.
6. Omar Apollo, “Evergreen (You Didn’t Deserve Me At All)”
Omar Apollo gives a lesson in how to fall in love and get burned. “Evergreen” is the highlight of his powerful debut Ivory, but it hits even deeper on the radio, where it always makes the songs on either side sound slightly stupid. It’s a doo-wop weeper carried by the queer Mexican-American virtuoso’s voice and guitar. When he chokes on the saddest line—“Sometimes I pray that you fall in love”—he sure isn’t the only one.
5. Harry Styles, “Satellite”
A satellite of love. Harry’s House is the kind of masterpiece where my favorite song has kept changing every few hours since the first listen. But “Satellite” is Harry in Bowie synth-pop robot-boy mode, shimmering down on a distant lover, with the vocoder benediction, “I can see you’re lonely down there.” The sonic equivalent of still finding feathers from boas for days after the show. (Hey, it happens.)
4. Megan Thee Stallion, “Plan B”
One of the year’s most unforgettable music moments: Megan raging onstage at Coachella and debuting “Plan B” for a crowd that’s never heard it before, while fans around the world stare at the livestream video with our jaws hanging open. What a triumph of real-time art-guerrilla bravado. “Dick don’t run me, I run dick”—any questions?
3. Momma, “Speeding 72”
The year’s most reliable “Today sucked until I put this song on” song. Allegra Weingarten and Etta Friedman go for a summer-crush road trip in “Speeding 72,” the peak of their glorious Household Name, with rock guitars full of love-buzz superfuzz. A friend invites you go for a cruise, so you ride shotgun, gaze out the window, crank the tunes loud. Sure, you might be going nowhere, but you get a glimpse of your life from your friend’s perspective, somebody with a little more emotional courage than you’ve got right now. “We could catch a sunburn listening to ‘Gold Soundz’” is a romantic promise to believe in.
2. Beyoncé, “Alien Superstar”
Beyoncé travels the dance-floor spaceways. What a trip: She reaches back past Prince, past Bowie, past George Clinton singing spirituals to the stars, past Rose Royce wishing on a star, past Patti Smith deciding she needs a boyfriend on Mars (“Okay, earth boys—you had your chance”), past John Coltrane’s astral sax, into an interstellar zone where not only are we all made of star stuff, but every star is a disco ball. Supernatural, up in the air.
Weird but fucking beautiful–the ultimate Taylor combination. I have no clue why “Snow on the Beach” is so perfect. She designed this to sound frivolous at first, a bit lightweight, even fluffy…except somehow it soars like “Enchanted” and punches like “Clean.” Dr. Swift works so hard to sound like she’s not even trying, but then she slides into “blurring out my per-i-pher-y” and you realize the mastermind has snared you in another trap. It’s Quill Pen Taylor, Fountain Pen Taylor, Glitter Gel Pen Taylor, all crying in the bathroom together. So many Taylors in this song, no wonder there’s barely any room for Lana. (Maybe she sang the commas?) Every detail planned so fiendishly, right down to the heartbeat buried deep in the second verse. It poses as a flimsy cardigan of a song, easy to slip on and off, yet you can’t pry those harps from your cranium. I haven’t even heard it in the snow yet, and believe me, I’m dreading that emotional bloodbath. How did this even happen?
I agonized over picking “Snow” vs. “The Great War,” then realized my agony meant this song already won, in a chain reaction of countermoves. But it also sounds like nothing she’s ever done, because Taylor keeps devising new creative challenges for herself, while the world scrambles to catch up with where she was five years ago. So ahead of the sphere. So ahead of the weird. And so fucking beautiful, right up to those beatific final seconds. It’s coming down, it’s coming down, it’s coming down.